Study Design. A multicenter randomized clinical trial including 82 patients.
Objective. To examine the effect of early initiation of rehabilitation after instrumented lumbar spinal fusion.
Summary of Background Data. Lumbar spinal fusion has been performed for more than 70 years. Yet, few studies have examined patients' subsequent rehabilitation. Group-based rehabilitation is both efficient and cost-effective in rehabilitation of lumbar spinal fusion patients.
Methods. Patients with degenerative disc diseases undergoing instrumented lumbar spinal fusion were randomly assigned to initiate their rehabilitation 6 weeks (6-wk group) or 12 weeks after lumbar spinal fusion (12-wk group). Both groups received the same group-based rehabilitation. Primary outcome was the Oswestry Disability Index. Secondary outcome was the Dallas Pain Questionnaire, the Low Back Pain Rating Scale, and absence from work. Wilcoxon rank-sum test was used to compare the groups in terms of differences from baseline to 6 months and 1-year follow-up. Results are presented in median with 25th and 75th percentiles.
Results. According to the Oswestry Disability Index, at 1-year follow-up, the 6-week-group had a median reduction of −6 (−19; 4) compared with −20 (−30;−7) in the 12-week group (P, 0.05). The Dallas Pain Questionnaire showed overall the same tendency, and within daily activities were significantly reduced in favor of the 12-week group (P, 0.05). For back pain, the 6-week group had a median reduction of −2.2 (−3.0; −0.7) similar with −3.3 (−4.7; −1.7) in the 12-week group (P, 0.05). The results at 6 months of follow-up were similar. No difference was found according to return to work 1 year postsurgery.
Conclusion. Early start of rehabilitation (6 wk vs. 12 wk) after lumbar spinal fusion resulted in inferior outcomes. The improvements in the 12-week group were 4 times better than that in the 6-week group, indicating that the start-up time of rehabilitation is an important contributing factor for the overall outcome.